• Grace Rector

Stopped at the Bolivian Border

Updated: Nov 27, 2021

My plan was to go from Santiago, Chile to Arica, Chile to La Paz, Bolivia, but nothing went as planned. After saying goodbye to my friends and family in Chile, I took a flight from Santiago to Arica, a city in the north of Chile that is near to the Bolivian border. I took the flight and arrived at my hostel in Arica where I spent the night and took the bus to La Paz the next morning. However, on the bus ride, as we got higher and higher in altitude, my stomach did a flip and I felt severely nauseous. The man on the bus next to me coached me to breathe in and out through my nose. It got better bit by bit, but then we reached the border between Bolivia and Chile. lol

They told us to come out of the bus and carry our bags to the other side of the border after going through security. But my stomach flipped again and I felt like I was going to pass out. I wobbled out of the bus and was extremely grateful when some little boys came to me offering to carry my bags. I got out of Chile and once I reached the entry to Bolivia window he informed me that I needed a visa as an American Citizen and that I could not obtain the visa at the border. He said I needed to return to Chile and go to the Bolivian consulate to obtain a visa. Not only was my head throbbing from altitude sickness and my breath quavering from the thinness of the air, but also my heart dropped because I would not be allowed into Bolivia.

Natural wonders in the north of Chile

The customs agent told me I’d need to wait until another bus came by the border that I could take back to Arica, Chile, but it wouldn’t come for another 6 hours. I took a breath and accepted my circumstance and went outside. I found a woman sitting under an umbrella named Maki who lent me her phone so I could WhatsApp my mom, and she was a source of tranquility despite my slowly rising anxiety. I sat with her for hours and fell asleep leaning against the wall next to her for hours. I got up once to get food and came back feeling more ill than before.

Cargo truck by truck passed by and I begged them to take me to Arica on their way, by one after another rejected my plead and I waited. Finally about 5 hours after sitting on the border with vomit on my boots, dirt on my sweater, and a sunburn on my cheeks a man said yes. Rene, a young man about 30 years old agreed to take me to Arica.

He lugged my bags up into his truck and we started on the long journey back. He was kind enough to stop at all the lookout points so I could get these great photos, and he played amazing music: Maná, a Mexican pop-rock band that I love. We chatted for hours on end and I enjoyed my elevated point of view in the passenger’s seat of a cargo truck. It turned into nighttime and we experienced a huge backup but nonetheless we trudged on. Finally at about 11pm or 7 hours later we arrived in Arica and I was SO grateful to him. I thanked him profusely and he refused any money to thank him for the ride.

Driving in the truck at nigh

But wait, the adventure is NOT over yet. I climbed down from the truck and stepped into my Uber. I met a kind driver named Ignacio. I was exhausted and telling him about my day and how much I needed to sleep. He double checked with me that I meant to go to the area where the hostel was located. He told me it was out of the city in a unsafe neighborhood. I was so tired I just asked him to take me anyway.

When we approached the hostel I saw a ton of party lights, electronic music, and a girl screaming into a microphone. I was soooo tired and I just wanted to sleep. Ignacio aww my face and asked me if I wanted to go to a different hostel. I said yes but that I didn’t want to have to order another Uber. Ignacio kindly offered to end the ride and drive me to another hostel for free.

We kept driving and chatting. It turned out that he is from La Serena, a beautiful beach city in Chile where I spent las Fiestas Patrias. He dropped me off and I was met with friendly staff members: Alfonso and Martin from Colombia and Argentina respectively. Luckily there was no party at the Willka Kuti Backpackers Hostal so I slept well.

The first day I spent at the beach. I just laid on the sand then jumped in the water, then went back to lie on the sand. It was a perfect day: not too hot or too cold. In the afternoon I came back to the hostal after getting too much sun and smelled a delicious BBQ. I saw Martin was in charge on the Parilla – naturally as an Argentinian – and I asked to stay and have some because I LOVE Argentinian BBQs. Martin, the three other hostal workers, and I shared the meal and it was delicious. We laughed and listened to Spanish rock music. We sat in silence sometimes when the sun hit our face right and made us sleepy and warm.

After lunch Fernando had the idea to go back to the beach for a swim and I happily accompanied him because I cannot get enough of the beach. We had such a fun time and I got to know Fernando and Martin better.

The next day we all went to the beach, staff and hostal guests and happened to see dolphins! I was terrified because I wasn’t wearing my classes and Fernando simply told me there was a black fin and I thought it was a shark… not such a funny joke.

That marked the end of my Chile adventure as I made my way to Lima, Peru for one week, then Bogota, Colombia for a few days. See the next blog for details.

A cute cafe on the beach


#bus #Chile #transport #Travel

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